Sound, imagery inextricably linked

I listen to music cinematically. I think about music and how it would make me feel when it’s put to an image, a moving image, and I love it — Walton Goggins

In the last three or four weeks, I’ve been obsessed with a musical mash-up between Blondie (Heart of Glass) and Philip Glass (Violin Concerto: II) which was created by Daft Beatles a few years ago. Titled Heart of Glass (Crabtree remix), I never knew this was a mash-up I needed in my life and on my writing playlist.

The first time I heard the song was on the July 11 broadcast of CBC’s q with guest host Ali Hassan. Hassan was interviewing Michael Perlmutter, the music supervisor for the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. They were discussing the rise of the music supervisor and how the Emmys finally created a category for outstanding music supervision.

Side note: Perlmutter didn’t make the cut for that category. Bummer.

Second side note: the job of music supervisor or music editor for a film or TV series fascinates me to no end. Soundscapes are just as important as the visuals and when you have a perfect marriage between the two, it is absolutely unforgettable.

The TV series Person of Interest was the first show I became aware of the music they used in their episodes. They used music by artists such as Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, The Kills and Philip Glass for two or three key scenes in every episode during the five seasons that they ran. It was smart use of sound and visuals to manipulate the viewer into feeling a certain way about a situation or one of the characters. Although the show probably paid a pretty sum to use the music of these artists, the real star, musically-speaking, was music composer Ramin Djawadi who created the score for the series. This is where I discovered his music and have remained an ardent fan of his work. The leitmotifs he created for the series were sublime. Mind you, his work for Game of Thrones is nothing to sneeze at either. Light of the Seven will always be one of my favourite works from Djawadi.

Watching this series made me think about the marriage between sound and imagery. It also made me want to talk to the show’s music supervisor, Djawadi and the show’s producers about their views on music and its role in visual storytelling. I just wanted to pick their brains. It would have been an eye-opening experience.

Anyway, back to Perlmutter and his CBC q interview. Assuming I heard the man correctly, the show submitted its third episode for Emmy consideration which featured the Daft Beatles mash-up. Then they played the song without naming it. Well, I nearly fell over when I heard the piece. I love Blondie. I love Debbie Harry. And I have an ever-growing appreciation for Philip Glass. Holy crap. Who knew these two artists could be mashed up like that and sound so sublime. I didn’t. And had I been PVRing The Handmaid’s Tale I would have discovered this little bit of aural heaven a lot sooner.

Of course, it’s a piece of music that fits perfectly with my current writing playlist. The piece is visually and emotionally evocative. It inspires my characters. It sets the right tone for them in some of the scenes I plan to write. It sets the wheels in motion.

My playlist is forever evolving and being fine-tuned as I work on the second novel. What the playlist looked like at the beginning of the writing process will look almost completely different by the time the first draft of the book is finished. What will remain are the core pieces that represent the characters and their relationships to each other.

Music and the writing process are inextricably linked.

I’m not sure when I started listening to music cinematically. I probably started when I was a teenager. Bits and pieces of images that would pop into my head because the music I was listening to at the time demanded it. I’ve always believed in the power of combining music and imagery, be it still or moving. But not everything I hear is cinematic. The pieces of music my brain registers as cinematic share some sort of intangible quality. I know what some of the commonalities are but it doesn’t completely explain the reason they affect me the way they do.

To be honest, I’m not all that interested in over-analyzing it. I go by gut instinct when it comes to music.

And now, I’m off to obsess over music and story.

Movie snacks, socks and stories to tell

Last week, I managed to find some time to watch four feature films. I didn’t watch them in the theatre, although, there is one I plan on grabbing some hot buttered popcorn for.

Watching movies at home is great. You don’t have to buy overpriced drinks and popcorn or nachos. Settling in with a gin and tonic or a tumbler of whiskey sounds like a good idea. But I do think having whiskey during movie night depends on what movie you’re planning on watching. I have yet to figure out kind of movie would be appropriate with the hard stuff.

However, I can think of a couple of actors who would go well with a shot or two of Lagavulin or Macallan. My mouth waters at the thought. Considering I haven’t found the right movie that goes with a good whiskey, I defaulted to a good herbal tea for the four films. Yes, that’s boring. No, I don’t care. Just know that when I bring out the whiskey, it will be for something special, something unique.

As for in-home movie snacks, I guess I could make my own popcorn. Unfortunately, I don’t have a popcorn popper. I could use one of my stainless steel pots to make the popcorn but then, I’d set off the smoke alarm and ruin a perfectly good pot. Not really interested in a hot air popcorn popper even though it’s considered the healthy alternative to using hot oil. And I’m ambivalent about microwaved popcorn.

Since I refuse to put in the work to make good theatre-worthy popcorn, snacks of choice would be mixed nuts or rice cakes with almond butter. That might be a little too healthy for some folks but that’s how my tastebuds roll. I had the rice cakes.

Screenwriting is always about what people say
or do, whereas good writing is about
a thought process or an abstract image
or an internal monologue, none of which
works on screen
— David Nicholls

Now that the discussion of in-home movie snacks has been dealt with, I’d like to say watching the four films was the first time I was consciously aware I was viewing the films as more than just as a person looking to be entertained by what was on the screen.

To be more specific, I was looking at lighting, the choice of camera angles and the type of camera shot. I practiced figuring out within the three-act story arc where act two and act three started. Not sure if I was all the successful. Yeah, I was getting nerdy.

Call it research. Call it learning. Call it absorbing everything like a sponge and reflecting on it.

And before I started watching the third film, I came up with another idea for another novel. Let’s just say the idea was inspired by one of the first two films I watched. A re-imagining, perhaps. Maybe more like a deconstruction? Anyway, it probably won’t look anything like the source of the inspiration after I’m done figuring out the characters and fine-tuning the storyline.

Considering I have two writing projects I need to focus on, coming up with another future project seems a little ambitious and is begging for trouble when it comes to time management. It’s probably safe to say that for a lot of writers, coming up with several story ideas that have enough traction to become novels or screenplays is something to relish and be grateful for. It offers the choice to work on a couple of ideas simultaneously or one by one — finish one project and start on the next.

When I started writing, I didn’t know if I had a story worthy of becoming a book inside me. Then, after I wrote The Raven Sonata, I didn’t know if there was another story tucked inside me that I could sink my teeth into. To continue to hone, to stretch and push, and to get more ambitious with my storytelling skillset.

It turns out I have more than one story to tell. It’s not like I have a ton of stories dying to be told. I have no idea how many stories I have and how many of them will end up on paper. And I don’t think I’m too concerned about that right now. Nevertheless, I’m surprised. Surprised that I like being a storyteller. Surprised that I’ve found the one thing that allows me to express myself in a way where I simply couldn’t give a fuck what anyone else says. And I’ll never stop being surprised by the tiny pile of story ideas I’ve acquired, all with not-fully developed characters, waiting to play with me.

I know I’m becoming more ambitious with the stories I want to tell. Being more ambitious requires figuring out how to execute those lofty goals a person has set for oneself. That’s where I am now. Complexity and simplicity have been ubiquitous qualities that have shaped all aspects of my life. So, why wouldn’t I have that enter my writing. It’s a matter of allowing the complexity and simplicity to flow and express itself in the written word. It’s not an easy process but the journey has been rewarding, so far.

Although my focus is on the second novel and the short film screenplay, it doesn’t stop me from thinking about the most recent idea. It will remain an idea that will incubate and grow on its own. I estimate working on the story arc for this new idea won’t happen until late summer/early fall unless something changes and I find myself scratching notes on file cards sooner than later.

It’s always exciting to come up with new story ideas that immediately grab hold of your imagination. All fun and games until you realize you have to prioritize. Either I reel in my imagination or pull up my socks and manage my time so I can get this pile of stuff done…

I guess I’ll pull up my socks.

Playtime desired

The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell — Ben Okri

Because I accepted the challenge of writing my first screenplay, I’ve been slightly obsessed, for the last few weeks, with finding movies — feature and short — to watch. Or at least add them to my ever-growing ‘to-watch’ film list.

I have four feature films I’d like to watch, hopefully, this week, assuming I can find the time. The four films in question are Milk, American Gigolo, Neruda and Lust, Caution. It’s a diverse list. I threw in American Gigolo just because I needed to see what I was missing out on when the film hit theatres and I was only 12 years old. All four films are rentals. If I like them enough, I just might want to own a copy of them.

And then, there is Wong Kar-Wai’s classic In the Mood for Love. From the snippets I’ve seen of the film, it is visually sumptuous and I’m in the mood to be seduced by what the director has to offer and to discover his deftness as a storyteller. I managed to find a copy of the film and I’m looking forward to watching it.

Because of the diversity of the viewpoints of these directors, I’m excited to discover how they spin and weave a story on screen. I’ve already viewed a number of short films online at a site called shortoftheweek.com. There are some beautiful gems on that site. So much to absorb and to think about. The art of storytelling is endless fascinating to me.

And I desperately need to play with my characters. It’s annoying that I’m still so busy. Maybe I can finally start shifting focus onto my boys and girls. I’m somewhat surprised they’re not harassing me every waking moment.

I suppose a reason for this could be I’m already engaged in the silly nonsense of looking longingly at my playmates while I’m doing something I don’t want to do. It’s not one of those hideous lovelorn looks two people give each other. It’s more like ‘You know I’d prefer to spend time with you, getting into all sorts of trouble, rather than doing whatever responsible adult thing I’m doing right now, right?’

All work and no play make for lack of writing bliss. Boo. Yeah, I want regular playtime with my characters. If you met them, you would want to play with them, too. However, it’s an exclusive relationship. We’re all mutually possessive of each other and we’re not particularly concerned with how dysfunctional that sounds.

Gotta make this short. I need to put in my playtime.